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The pressure of publishing in academia.

"There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature citation too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print."

Drummond Rennie

1. Introduction

Over the past decade, there has been increasing evidence describing the scientific publication process, the peer review of research manuscripts submitted to scientific journals, the incremental nature of scientific progress, and the ethics underlying the peer reviewing of scientific manuscripts. The mainstay of the paper is formed by an analysis of the influence of peer review on manuscript quality, the quality of scientific information, imperfections in the peer review process, and the pressure to disseminate science.

2. The Ethics Underlying the Peer Reviewing of Scientific Manuscripts

Benos et al. put it that the process of peer review serves an important role in scientific publication (the core assumptions inherent in the process of peer review must be evaluated and adapted to the changing environment): well-organized forms of free information exchange may provide useful models for scientific publication, an open review process makes research available immediately and allows multiple people to comment upon a manuscript, whereas how often an article is cited may be a reasonable proxy for the impact of the paper on the scientific community. "Peer review provides a formal opportunity for authors to gauge reaction to their work as well as allowing for the possible detection and subsequent correction of errors or flaws in logic prior to an article's appearance in the public domain. Thus, peer review infuses 'added value' into a publication." (1) Hakkalamani et al. maintain that a high self-citation rate and citation density may influence the impact factor of a journal, and that may be overcome "by an article-by-article citation count and calculation of the impact factor after elimination of self-citing, correction by a factor for self-citation and setting the limit for the citation density." (2)

Triggle and Triggle affirm that peer review should provide due diligence to a manuscript: it is an essential component of the scientific review process, providing quality control so that the published works meet appropriate standards. Triggle and Triggle hold that a paper in a high impact journal does not necessarily equate with a high impact paper: it is essential to evaluate the impact of the individual paper and take into account where it was published and how well it has been cited and by whom. "The benefit to the authors of publishing in a high profile journal is the anticipation that their article will have greater visibility and, therefore, more likely to be cited. Such benefit also contributes to the pressure to obtain results and to publish, a pressure that is not necessarily always beneficial to science or to the scientist." (3) Opthof et al. say that the peer review process can help selecting papers with a high scientific quality, and is valuable in selecting highly cited papers: it is employed by editors as a selection method, and assists in improving the quality of the submitted manuscripts (the unrestricted exchange of thought and criticism is at the root of the scientific process). The credibility of the peer review system is pivotal for the scientific society. Both editor's ratings and reviewer's ratings predict future citation, and the highest ratings from editors and reviewers have the strongest predictive power for future citation. (4)

3. Peer-reviewed Contributions as a Measure of Scientific Advancement

Casadevall and Fang posit that new incentives for publication dramatically increased the number of research papers: publishing in peer-reviewed journals is the major mechanism for the dissemination of scientific knowledge (the venue chosen for publication can have a significant impact in the visibility of a study), scientists prefer to publish in journals that present the greatest hurdles, and hiring, promotion, and funding have become heavily reliant on publication record.5 The peer-review process is essential in academic publishing, but it delays the dissemination of research results to target audiences. (6) Lipworth and Kerridge point out that relations of power and epistemic authority in manuscript review are complex and dynamic, the manuscript review process is best thought of as a shifting "net" of power relations, whereas reviewers should be encouraged to participate in the process in the most ethical and effective manner. (7) Journal submissions should be judged solely on the basis of their scientific merit. (8) Sadler remarks that authoring manuscripts is key to one's survival and success (the opportunity for advancement depends upon one's publication record). "By and large, when submitting manuscripts for publication, the feedback received from the often anonymous reviewers is beneficial in yielding a more robust article, whether it be a request to expand on the results section, explain the weaknesses of the study design or conduct, or focus the conclusion and discussion sections." (9)

Schafer et al. claim that a goal of all scientists is to generate and disseminate new scientific knowledge, and peer-reviewed journals are the major avenue for disseminating such knowledge (there is no alternative to peer review to control the quality of scientific publications. "For the IF to be a valid metric of evaluating the research quality among individuals, the quality of an article (and thus the quality of the underlying science) would need to be strongly correlated with the IF of the journal it is published in." (10) As Benos et al. put it, a reviewer must provide an unbiased evaluative analysis of the structural components of a manuscript in an acceptable, ethical context (a reviewer is asked to provide an informed opinion about a manuscript). "The purpose of peer review is to ensure 1) quality, checking that no mistakes in procedure or logic have been made; 2) that the results presented support the conclusion drawn; 3) that no errors in citations to previous work have been made; 4) that all human and animal protocols conducted follow proper review and approval by appropriate institutional review committees; and, very importantly, 5) that the work is original and significant." (11) Smith holds that peer review is impossible to define in operational terms (the forms of peer review are protean). The most important question with peer review is how to improve it. Peer review is a flawed process, but there is no obvious alternative (scientists and editors have a continuing belief in peer review). (12) Smith insists that the anti-innovatory nature of peer review may mean that important science does not get done, and that the correlation between what is judged important in pre-publication peer review and what has lasting value is small: peer review is a process that is central to science (the "establishment" decides what is important), is expensive in terms of money and academic time, is slow, is largely a lottery, does not detect errors, is biased, and can be too easily abused. (13)

4. The Ability of Peer Review to Improve the Quality of Published Research

Jefferson et al. argue that the use of peers may raise the quality of the end product and provide a mechanism for rational, fair, and objective decision making (the doubts contributed by peer review are an intrinsic and essential part of science). (14) Jefferson et al. contend that the term peer review describes a number of processes (i.e., gathering opinions from external experts and review by in-house editors). It may not be possible to make a clear distinction between peer review and technical editing. Editorial peer review is an extension of the basic principles of science and scholarship, achieving universal application for assessing research reports before publication. Peer review and editing improves articles between submission and publication, the quality components of a manuscript are often interlinked (it is meaningless to study them in isolation), and every aspect of all scientific and scholarly work must be subjected to critical appraisal. "Its aims may be categorized as 1) selecting submissions for publication (by a particular journal) and rejecting those with irrelevant, trivial, weak, misleading, or potentially harmful content, and 2) improving the clarity, transparency, accuracy, and utility of the selected submissions. The selection of submissions depends on assessment of their quality and how well they match the journal's scope and aims. The quality criteria may be categorized as the importance, relevance, usefulness, and methodological and ethical soundness of the research and the clarity, accuracy, and completeness of the report." (15)

Kravitz et al. write that peer review foments scientific discourse, improves quality of research reporting ("quality improvement"), and aids editors in deciding whether to accept submitted work ("filtering"). Journals have a duty to assess and improve the processes they use to accept or reject articles for publication. "While perfect agreement among reviewers is arguably unnecessary (implying redundancy of effort) or undesirable (perhaps suggesting excessive cognitive homogeneity in the reviewer pool), editors should expect reviewer recommendations to be substantially more consistent than mere chance." (16) Szklo states that the peer review process represents the main approach to evaluate the quality of scientific publications (the quality of papers should not be judged after publication by use of the citation indexes of the journals in which they were published). The rationale, design, findings and inferences from a scientific paper's results should be clearly conveyed and understood by the intended readers. "The peer review process has been the bedrock of science, notwithstanding its flaws reflected by a less-than-perfect reliability and an unknown validity." (17) Winck et al. emphasize that editors rely on peer reviewers to guarantee the appropriateness and scientific quality of the manuscripts they publish (peer review is the only available method to improve the quality of published papers): reviewing a manuscript is a process based on the experience and personal background of the reviewer, use of several reviewers can dilute the effects of a biased reviewer, and masking the reviewers to the identification of the authors may improve quality of peer review. "Editorial decision-making should be directed at selecting the best manuscripts and those that better match their readership." (18)

5. Conclusions

The goal of the present study was to determine if there are relationships between the integrity of science, the future of peer review, the ability of peer review to improve the quality of published research, and uncertainty about the effects of peer review.


(1.) Benos, Dale J., Edlira Bashari, Jose M. Chaves, Amit Gaggar, Niren Kapoor, Martin LaFrance, Robert Mans, David Mayhew, Sara McGowan, Abigail Polter, Yawar Qadri, Shanta Sarfare, Kevin Schultz, Ryan Splittgerber, Jason Stephenson, Cristy Tower, R. Grace Walton, and Alexander Zotov (2007), "The Ups and Downs of Peer Review," Advances in Physiology Education 31: 145.

(2.) Hakkalamani, S., A. Rawal, M. S. Hennessy, R. W. Parkinson (2006), "The Impact Factor of Seven Orthopaedic Journals: Factors Influencing It," The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (Br) 88(2): 161.

(3.) Triggle, Chris R., and David J. Triggle (2007), "What Is the Future of Peer Review? Why Is There Fraud in Science? Is Plagiarism Out of Control? Why Do Scientists Do Bad Things? Is It All a Case of: 'All that Is Necessary for the Triumph of Evil Is that Good Men Do Nothing?'" Vascular Health and Risk Management 3(1): 45.

(4.) Opthof, Tobias, Ruben Coronel, and Michiel J. Janse (2002), "The Significance of the Peer Review Process against the Background of Bias: Priority Ratings of Reviewers and Editors and the Prediction of Citation, the Role of Geographical Bias," Cardiovascular Research 56: 339-346.

(5.) Casadevall, Arturo, and Ferric C. Fang (2009), "Is Peer Review Censorship?" Infection and Immunity 77(4): 1273-1274.

(6.) Samkin, Grant (2011), "Academic Publishing: A Faustian Bargain?" Australasian Accounting Business and Finance Journal 5(1): 19-34.

(7.) Lipworth, Wendy, and Ian Kerridge (2011), "Shifting Power Relations and the Ethics of Journal Peer Review," Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy 25(1): 97-121.

(8.) Daniel, Hans-Dieter, Sandra Mittag, and Lutz Bornmann (2007), "The Potential and Problems of Peer Evaluation in Higher Education and Research," in Alessandro Cavalli (ed.), Quality Assessment for Higher Education. London: Portland Press, 71-82.

(9.) Sadler, Theodore R. (2011), "Publishing in Academia: Woes of Authorship, Figures, and Peer Review," Drug Information Journal 45(2): 149.

(10.) Schafer, Ralf B., Steven J. Cooke, Robert Arlinghaus, Nuria Bonada, Francois Brischoux, Andrew F. Casper, Jane A. Catford, and Virginie Rolland (2011), "Perspectives from Early Career Researchers on the Publication Process in Ecology - A Response to Statzner & Resh (2010)," Freshwater Biology 56: 2406.

(11.) Benos, Dale J., Kevin L. Kirk, and John E. Hall (2003), "How to Review a Paper," Advances in Physiology Education 27(2): 48.

(12.) Smith, Richard (2006), "Peer Review: A Flawed Process at the Heart of Science and Journals," Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 99: 178-182.

(13.) Smith, Richard (2010), "Classical Peer Review: An Empty Gun," Breast Cancer Research 12(Suppl. 4): S13.

(14.) Jefferson, Tom, Philip Alderson, Elizabeth Wager, and Frank Davidoff (2002), "Effects of Editorial Peer Review: A Systematic Review," JAMA 287(21): 2784-2785.

(15.) Jefferson, Tom, Elizabeth Wager, and Frank Davidoff (2002), "Measuring the Quality of Editorial Peer Review," JAMA 287(21): 2788.

(16.) Kravitz, Richard L., Peter Franks, Mitchell D. Feldman, Martha Gerrity, Cindy Byrne, and William M. Tierney (2010), "Editorial Peer Reviewers' Recommendations at a General Medical Journal: Are They Reliable and Do Editors Care?" PLoS ONE 5(4): 2.

(17.) Szklo, Moyses (2006), "Quality of Scientific Articles," Rev Saude Publica 40(N Esp): 35.

(18.) Wincka, J.C., J.A. Fonsecab, L.F. Azevedob, and J.A. Wedzichac (2011), "To Publish or Perish: How to Review a Manuscript," Portuguese Journal of Pulmonology 17(2): 97.

[C] George Lazaroiu

GEORGE LAZAROIU Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, New York Spiru Haret University
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Author:Lazaroiu, George
Publication:Economics, Management, and Financial Markets
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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